Mumbai, April 13: This Lok Sabha election may well be an opportunity for Sharad Pawar, who once harboured prime ministerial ambitions, to bequeath his political legacy on either his soft-spoken daughter Supriya Sule or his brash nephew Ajit Pawar.
Pawar, 73, is considered the proverbial ‘Old Fox’ of Maharashtra politics whose views matter under any given political scenario.
For the Nationalist Congress Party chief and union agriculture minister, the ensuing elections are considered perhaps a final opportunity to bequeath his political legacy – of which he has heaped a rich mound over the past five decades.
There is intense speculation on the prospective roles of his daughter Supriya Sule, MP and nephew Ajit Pawar, deputy chief minister – both with their own strengths and weaknesses, but both dear to elder Pawar.
The duo has been kept being busy in separate turfs by which Pawar has ensured there are no ego flare-ups.
Pawar may well visualize his daughter Supriya as a future first woman chief minister of the state, but simultaneously create a lot of heartburn for ambitious nephew Ajit who has been a staunch family loyalist and backbone of the party.
Some party insiders claim it is too early for ‘Saheb’ to think of all these things, others say that everything is already scripted and shall be played out according to Pawar’s will.
“We are all waiting for the outcome of the Lok Sabha elections and the subsequent Maharashtra assembly elections before expecting anything concrete on this issue,” said a party insider.
Despite his senior age and dwindling health conditions, the Maratha strongman has not lost any of his legendary political wiliness and ability to turn the tables on the most formidable rivals.
Perhaps, the finest of political game-players – both in state and national politics – Pawar once openly harboured prime ministerial ambitions in the early 1990s.
However, as the venerable R.K. Laxman put it in his political cartoon that time, the Maratha leader mounted the horse to New Delhi, came, saw and ‘concurred’ – before late prime minister P.V. Narasimha Rao.
An equally venerable astrologer in Mumbai – whom Pawar reportedly used to consult occasionally – had shown the planetary writings to him in the skies – “You will become anything but PM…”
Little wonder then that in the run up to the 2014 general elections, Pawar made very practical observations on his own prospects for the top job: “We just don’t have the requisite numbers… We are aware of our limitations…”
After the Rao government followed a brief season of political instability at the centre – followed by the Bharatiya Janata Party-led NDA rule, Pawar quit the Congress in a huff protesting Sonia Gandhi’s foreign origins and later founded the NCP with secular credentials.
After having partnered with the Congress in the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) in 2004 and 2009 – raising many a political eyebrows, the NCP has yet to cast off the state party tag.
Though the NCP has built up some presence in over a dozen Indian states, the stark reality is that all the votes and seats in assembly and parliament it managed to garner so far, are only from Pawar’s home state.
Fortunately for him, the NCP has a strong grassroots base, especially in western Maharashtra which has generally stood by the Congress-NCP, besides acceptability across all sections of society.
Now, it is time for the storm-battered, seasoned Pawar to pass the baton to the gen-next in the party and become the NCP’s pater familias.
He has already taken the first step by opting for Rajya Sabha – but continues to be NCP’s star campaigner in the current elections hoping to better the UPA’s tally here.
Pawar even shared the dais with Sonia Gandhi last week to jointly combat the saffron forces which threaten to damage the Congress-NCP citadel in the state this time.
(Quaid Najmi can be contacted firstname.lastname@example.org)